Loving God with all your Mind
Richard R. Crocker
September 16, 2012
I have suggested that our theme for chapel services this term be the question: “What does it mean to love God with all your mind?”
The scripture passage today poses the question. When Jesus is asked by a sincere questioner “Which is the greatest commandment?”, he replied by quoting, from Deuteronomy, a central text of the Jewish tradition, known as the shema: “You shall love the God your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” That’s what the text says in the Hebrew scripture. But when Jesus quotes it, according to the passage today in Mark and also the similar passages in Matthew and Luke, he adds the phrase “with all your mind.” It is an interesting addition. Loving God with all your heart and soul and strength means loving God with all with the center of your being – with your emotional life, with what is at the very center of you, and with all your energy. While we could examine each of those in turn, let us be content to ask tonight, and perhaps in future chapel services, what it means to love God with all your mind.
This is a question that seems appropriate in a college chapel. After all, you who are students are here, aren’t you, to develop your minds – not so much your heart or your soul or your strength – though I think Dartmouth students, and students in general, are often far more interested in issues of the heart and the soul and the body than in “intellectual questions.” But all of those are secondary to the primary purpose of the college. The purpose of college is to cultivate the life of the mind.
And the purpose of this college chapel service is thoughtful worship. That’s how we advertise ourselves: a brief thoughtful worship service is what we say. Thoughtful means we are trying to love God with our minds.
So, what does it mean to love God with all your mind? When Jesus said “mind”, whatever he meant in Aramaic was translated into Greek by the word dianoia, which means reasoning. Love God through the way we reason. What does that mean? I suggest that it means at least these three things.
First, it means that we reason our way back to mystery. Life is mysterious. Our very existence is amazingly, wonderfully, incomprehensibly mysterious. We are here. That’s really all we know. We don’t know how we got here. Now, scientists of all kinds can give us some clues about how things have developed, but inevitably, the pursuit of our origin, our evolution, takes us back to fundamental mystery. So our reason takes us to mystery. That’s the first step in loving God with our minds: acknowledging the wonderful mystery of existence.
Second, loving God with our mind then means asking questions and trying to answer them. If you enter a class with no questions, you will learn little. The essence of learning is asking questions and considering answers. We ask questions with our minds. Some are trivial questions, some are logistical questions, some are existential questions. Sometimes we ask questions according to our temperament. For example, you may be interested in asking questions about how things work. If so, you may become an engineer. I am not so interested in those questions. When something is wrong with my car, or my body, I am glad that there are mechanics and doctors who have studied how cars work and how bodies work. They are important questions. But the questions I ask, by my temperament, concern what things mean? What does it mean? What does it mean? These are commonly called spiritual or philosophical questions. But we must use our minds in answering all kinds of questions. That is what our minds are for.
Third, loving God with all our mind means not only trying to answer questions that arise in our own minds, but also taking seriously the questions that others pose to us. Sometimes we think that having faith means that we don’t have to think about things or try to answer questions. We can even become defensive when people ask us why we believe a certain thing, such as: why do you believe in God? Or why do you not believe in God? Or why do you believe that abortion is wrong, or why do you not believe that abortion is wrong? Often we are more comfortable when we are around people who do not ask us such questions. But loving God with all our minds means, certainly, that we take the questions that others pose to us seriously, that we try to answer them, honestly and thoughtfully, using the tool of reason.
Loving God means loving the mystery of life and loving others. Loving God with our minds means, at least, taking questions seriously. It also means, for those of us in every particular faith, learning about answers that constitute our own particular tradition. That does not mean that we adhere to a tradition uncritically. Far from it. But if a tradition is not questioned, it is not alive for us. Only when we answer the questions for ourselves, using our minds, do we feel that it is really ours.
At Dartmouth, I hope that you will take questions seriously. Do not fear the questions.Trying to answer them, in humility, but doing your best, is part of what it means to love God, and it is part of the greatest commandment of our faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.